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Future Tools: Open Source CRMs

by on December 15, 2020

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In a network society your contacts are your network

Join us today for another Metaviews salon, as we’ll discuss the potential to open source entire industries!? Let’s take digital transformation to the extreme!? This session begins at 12noon Eastern, with the animal pre-show starting at 11:30am Eastern.

https://zoom.us/j/94195095934?pwd=cksrWFM3eHE5OTJrM0RPajg4Y3NpUT09

Yesterday (Monday) I woke up and was anxious that I did not receive a copy of the newsletter. My concern was that if I didn’t get a copy, others didn’t.

I checked substack and it showed the issue was sent out. Why had I not received it? Often the easiest way to solve such a mystery is to search Twitter. In this case all I had to do was open Twitter and the answer was right there.

Google wasn’t down for everyone, but in my case Gmail was, and that explained why I wasn’t receiving messages or newsletters.

It was another reminder of my vulnerability, and a reinforcement of a longer term strategy to declare autonomy, or at least have contingency plans in place.

Today’s Future Tools issue focuses on a key component of our network society: our contacts and how we manage our (digital) relationships. In software parlance, this is the CRM, or contact relationship management, or customer relationship management, or whatever you want the C to stand for.

CRM systems are the engine of contemporary marketing and business. They’re why you get stalked by advertising or inundated with personalized email offers. Some CRMs are deep and have extensive information about people, others are shallow and are just an email address.

The biggest CRM player is Salesforce. Who just bought Slack.

And relatedly, in his analysis of the Salesforce/Slack merger, monopoly man of the moment Matt Stoller also notes that the CRM industry among the US left has also consolidated:

All of this reinforces why we should be thinking about how to control and maintain our own relationship database.

For most people, that’s just a contacts file. Yet even then how many folks bother to back it up or export it from the major digital platforms they rely upon?

Long term having a relationship management software or database makes sense. There are so many (potential) weak social ties that we encounter or make in our (digital) lives. While some of those arguably ought to remain weak, there are many that should be nurtured into stronger ties and closer relationships.

It’s stubborn and self-defeating to rely solely on our memories. That’s part of Facebook’s appeal. Reminding us of birthdays, photo memories, and providing nudges to reconnect or reinforce the relationships we have.

Can we not and should we not have such abilities and systems independent from big tech?

Open source CRMs provide that opportunity. They range in capability and complexity, pricing and purpose. Although one clear benefit of an open source CRM is that if you install it yourself the price is free.

CiviCRM
One of the first CRMs that I ever played with and installed was CiviCRM. Started in the early part of this century, CiviCRM is built on top of the free and open source content management framework Drupal (although apparently it can work with WordPress as well).

Their vision: That all organizations – regardless of their size, budget, or focus – have access to an amazing CRM to engage their contacts and achieve their missions; that they own their data and their code; and that they can modify and extend their CRM without restriction.

From their about page:

CiviCRM as a project is community driven and is sustained through contributions and financial support from its community. A key measure of CiviCRM’s success is the social good that it generates as well as the stories and case studies provided by organizations that are doing amazing and innovative things with CiviCRM.

Today, CiviCRM continues to be created and used by a global community of tens of thousands of individuals and organisations whose fundamental objective is to make a meaningful difference in the world. Likewise, the project continues to attract contributors that help shape CiviCRM such that it can continue to achieve its vision. At the center of CiviCRM is a Core Team of staff employed to coordinate the release of the software and provide leadership for the project.

CiviCRM is a great tool for organizations, and is absolutely worth investigating further, but it is probably overkill for individuals.

Nonetheless if you’re interesting in learning more, they organized/produced a series of videos in response to the pandemic that highlight how to use their software.

CiviCRM is free to use and install, although there is a wide ecosystem of consultants, companies, and hosting providers who will gladly take money to make the process easy and customized.

Odoo
While CiviCRM is designed for non-profits and community groups, Odoo is a suite of open source business apps for companies. Based out of Belgium, all of their software, including their CRM, is free and open source.

Like other open source solutions, you can install it on your own for free, or pay for a hosted solution. However they also generate revenue via an ecosystem of apps that provide added functionality.

Odoo is far more than just CRM, as they’re focused on providing software tools for all business activities, especially manufacturers and wholesalers who require inventory management.

However our focus today is largely on the CRM side, although it is interesting and relevant that their software is part of a larger suite of tools and integrated services.

Odoo is growing rapidly with over 5 million users and almost a 1,000 employees. Here’s their mission from their about page:

We think business software should cover complex needs without being complicated. Our mission is to provide software that is intuitive, full-featured, tightly integrated, effortless to upgrade, all while running smoothly for every business, every user.

Rather than a single piece of software, Odoo is building a platform, all built on open source software, which gives them the scale to stand up to the likes of Salesforce. Perhaps not literally, but at least politically, and as an alternative for people who want to own and control their data, without having to trust a growing giant like Salesforce (or Microsoft or SAP).

Given the growth trajectory of Odoo we may have to revisit them in a future issue and dig deeper into their wider functionality and value proposition.

Monica: Personal CRM
Finally if you’re neither a non-profit nor a business but are still interested in better organizing your relationships, then Monica may be the software solution for you. Here’s the description from their website:

Monica is for people who have jobs, a family, and are busy trying to find a good work/life balance. So busy, that they don’t have time anymore to remember to call a friend, say happy birthday to a nephew, or remember to invite someone special for dinner next week. The older we get, the more life gets in the way. It’s sad, but it’s the reality.

I created Monica to help these people.

Monica is not a social network. It will never be. It’s a private place for your eyes only, that you own, without any ads or malicious software that will read your data, where you can safely document what you know about who you love. And if you want another level of security, you can always install Monica on a server that you own, for free.

As software the design of Monica is straight forward, with minimal features and a clean interface. It’s been active for several years, and as a result has found the kind of stability reserved for mature open source projects.

Here’s a video overview from one of the project’s developers:

Like all the other projects the software is free to use if you install it yourself, and you can also pay for hosting, in this case $9/month or $90/year. I was going to add the proverbial U in front of the $ but it turns out that Monica is “proudly Canadian” so that’s in Canuck bucks for our American friends.

Unlike the other software we’ve profiled in this issue, Monica is really focused on contact management, and not much else. However it does this one task quite well, and provides a useful dashboard to see info about your contacts. Imagine Facebook with only the helpful reminders and none of the content.

Monica’s success as a personal CRM has encouraged the team of developers behind the project to develop a full featured open source CRM for businesses called OfficeLife. They anticipate it being available in Spring of 2021. From the OfficeLife website:

We think there is a place for a single software that manages the entire lifecycle of an employee. By knowing everything we need to know about an employee, we can know how teams are doing, what everyone does, improve communication and gives you unique insights on how the company truly operates.

A single tool that puts the employee at the core of the experience.

A tool that advocates complete transparency at every layer of the company.

A tool that help reduce all the noise on Slack and emails to improve communication between people.

A tool that promotes collaboration between employees and teams.

That seems rather ambitious, and it does include a wide range of features:

OfficeLife will let you manage the following aspect of your company in a very easy-to-use, privacy-first software:

???? Employee and team management,

???? Know what you coworkers have done yesterday,

???? Applicant tracking system,

???? Employee onboarding,

⛵️ One-on-one management,

???? Time tracking,

???? Holidays management,

???? Documents,

???? Expenses,

????Hardware management,

????Project management,

???? A way to create automated flows to put your company on autopilot (can’t wait to show this feature to the world),

and many, many other features.

OfficeLife will be completely open with a great API and no vendor lock-in, and will be open source.

As always it will be interesting to see what they accomplish, and whether they’re able to carve out users from the sprawling world of business software. If anything the pandemic has rewarded companies who have adopted digital tools and incentivized others to do the same.

Today’s issue was intended to show you three options, among many, that make it possible for you to use relationship management tools while keeping control over your data.

The larger message is that your relationships are important, and that there is value in actually managing them, or at least organizing them in some digital manner.

This is our twenty third issue in the Future Tools series.

The first was on Keybase, a service designed to make encryption easy to use. The second was on Pi-Hole, free and open source software designed to make it easy for you to block the digital advertisements on your network(s). The third was on Tor and the so called dark web, enabling secure surfing for all. The fourth was on Matrix and Riot as an alternative to Slack. The fifth was on democracy.earth and quadratic voting. The sixth was on the Brave browser. The seventh was on Rocket Chat. The eight was on pol.is. The ninth was on Decidim. The tenth was on Mastodon. The eleventh was on BigBlueButton. The twelfth was on the video conferencing tool Jitsi. The thirteenth was on ProtonMail. The fourteenth was on Ghost, the headless content management system. The fifteenth issue was on DECODE. The sixteenth was on Parrot OS. The seventeenth was on Qubes OS. The eighteenth was on Open Drone Map. The nineteenth was on Zorin OS. The twentieth was on OBS Studio. The twenty-first was on HestiaPi. The twenty-second was on ZoneMinder.

If you have any questions about these tools we’ve profiled, or suggestions/requests for tools that we should profile in the future. As always let us know. #metaviews

“Future Tools” is a recurring series in the Metaviews newsletter where we share some of the tools and concepts that you’ll need to protect yourself in the now and near future.

Finally, to provide some context, here’s a video from Salseforce on their research in AI for CRM:

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